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Regalskeppet Vasa
Vasa from the port side
Career Swedish Navy Ensign
Laid down: 1626
Launched: 1628
Fate: Sunk on her maiden voyage.
General Characteristics
Displacement: 1210 metric ton
Total Length: 69 m
Beam: 11.7 m
Draft: 4.8 m
Height, keel to mast: 52.5 m
Propulsion: 10 Sails, 3 Masts
Sail area: 1,275 m2
Armament: 64 guns
Sailors: 145
Soldiers: 300

Regalskeppet Vasa (also Wasa) is a Swedish 64-gun ship of the line built for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden of the House of Vasa, between 1626 and 1628. The Vasa capsized on its maiden voyage but was later recovered and is now in display at the Vasamuseum in Stockholm.


During 1621-1625 the work at the Stockholm ship yard was lead by Antonius Monier with dutch-born Henrik Hybertsson as hired shipbuilder. At the 16th of January, 1625 the two brothers Henrik and Arendt Hybertson took over the shipyard and soon signed a contract to build four ships, two larger of around 135 feet and two smaller of 108 feet[1].

After a few years, the shipyard ran into economic problems, delaying the construction of the contracted ships. At the same time, the Swedish navy lost 10 ships in a single storm and the king worriedly sent a letter to admiral Klas Fleming, asking him to make sure mister Henrik hurried with the construction of the two lesser ships. Along with the letter were measurements for the ship the King intended, with a 120 foot keel. That gave Henrik Hybertsson new problems, because the measurements given by the king were in between the planned larger and smaller vessels, and the timber had already been cut. In a new letter, on February 22 1626, the king yet again demanded his measurements for the new ship be followed. In the end, it seems likely that Henrik extended one of his started designs for a smaller 108 foot ship by adding another section to it, creating the 135 feet ship that would become the Vasa [2].

Henrik Hybertsson never got a chance to see Wasa completed, he fell ill in late 1625 and died in the spring of 1627. The supervision for the shipbuilding was given to Henrik's assistant, Hein Jaconsson, another dutch immigrant. In practice, while Henrik was ill, the responsibility was shared between him and his assistant Hein, leading to confusion and a lack of leadership[2].

While the ship was being equiped Admiral Fleming ordered the stability of the Vasa be tested. The standard stability test of the day was thirty sailors running from side to side trying to rock the boat. When this was attempted on Vasa, the ship started tilting significantly after only three runs and the admiral ordered the test aborted, allegedly stating "had they run any more times, she would have went over". Surprisingly enough, neither Hein Jacobsson or Johan Isbrandsson, the two ship builders in charge at the time were present for the stability test. The captain, Söfring Matsson is said to have uttered "God hope it will stay on its keel" in response to the test[2].

Shortly after the disaster, Ardent Hybertsson left Sweden and returned to Holland.

Maiden voyage[edit]

On August 10 1628 Captain Matsson ordered the Vasa to set sail on her maiden voyage to the harbor of Stockholm. The day was calm, and the only wind was a light breeze from the southwest. Her sails were not set until the southern outskirts of the harbor, but the Vasa sailed for less than a nautical mile before capsizing after they were rigged. In the harbor a gust of wind forced the ship on her portside, after which water started flowing in through her open gun ports. Vasa sank to a depth of 100 feet, around 100 yards from the shore. Despite the short distance to the land, between 30 and 50 people were trapped in the ship and perished. The exact number of casualities is unknown, as the only reports from the accient are lacking in substance and incomplete.

At the following interrogation, captain Söfring Hansson simply stated "a gust came". It is known from other reports that there was almost no wind at the time, so it did not take much to sink the ship. It has been calculated that if the Vasas center of gravity had been a mere 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) lower, she would not have capsized in the harbor. [3].

After its sinking, most of the ship's valuable bronze cannons were soon recovered with the use of a diving bell. Access to the cannons required removing the decking at several levels.


When the King heard of the Vasa's fate, he was incensed. 'Imprudence and negligence' must have been the cause, he wrote back angrily to the Council of the Realm, demanding in no uncertain terms that the guilty parties be punished. Captain Söfring Hansson who survived the disaster was immediately put in prison.

In the end, no guilty party could be found. The person responsible for the design, Henrik Hybertsson was long dead and buried. The ship was built according the specifications laid out by the King, and one couldn't very well punish the King. In the end, no one was punished or found guilty for negligence.

The sinking of the Vasa was also a major economic disaster, the cost of the ship was more than 200 000 riksdaler, which was about 5% of Sweden's GNP at the time.[4].

Why did the Vasa sink?[edit]

During this period, the design requirements and calculations for building a ship only existed in the head of the shipwright. Scientific theories on vessel design or stability had not yet been developed, so important factors like the ship's center of gravity had to be estimated from the builder's experience.[4]

  • The Vasa was a very advanced ship for her time, and much of the design was changed while the ship was being built. The build was delayed and at the end, marked by great hurry to get the ship finished[2].
  • The original plans only called for one gundeck, but the Vasa was finished with two.


In 1956, Anders Franzén thought of the possibility of recovering wrecks from the Baltic waters, because he figured that these waters were free from the shipworm Teredo navalis. He started looking for the Vasa, and found her in an upright position at a depth of 32 meters. The wreck was lifted in a relatively straightforward way, by digging six tunnels under the hull, through which steel cables were to be attached to a pair of lifting pontoons. The ship was lifted and brought to shallower water, where she was to be made watertight for the final lift. Her gun ports were closed by means of temporary lids, and all the holes from the iron bolts, which had all rusted away, were plugged. The final lift took place on April 24, 1961, after which she was put in a dry dock.

Vasa's stern


Conservation of the ship itself was done using polyethylene glycol, a method that was also used years later in the conservation process of the Mary Rose. Vasa was sprayed with this glycol during 17 years, followed by slowly drying. Recent developments have shown that this conservation method, in time, makes the wood brittle and fragile.

Over 26,000 artifacts have been found, including six original sails, still folded up. After the lifting of the wreck, the wreck site was searched for artifacts and over 700 sculptures were found. These sculptures were once attached to the ship, but the bolts had rusted away, causing the sculptures to fall to the bottom.


The ship can be seen in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Sandström, Anders (1982). Sjöstrid på Wasas tid. Stockholm: Wasastudier, nr 9. ISBN 91-85268-21-6. 
  2. ^ a b c d Curt, Borgenstan (1984). Sjöstrid på Wasas tid. Stockholm: Wasastudier, nr 12.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  3. ^ Borgenstam, Curt and Sandström, Anders. Page 49.
  4. ^ a b "Case: The Vasa Capsizes.". 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-06.